Swindler’s List


Through corporate welfare and indirect subsidies, sports team owners alternately sweet-talk and bully their way to constructing new stadiums–at the expense of taxpayer and municipal social services. The price tag is expected to be $11 billion by the end of the decade. In the war waged between avaricious sports team owners and cities desperate for big league sports, the real losers are the fans.

Meticulously cataloguing a coast-to-coast route of dashed hopes and wasted cash, Cagan and deMause thoroughly debunk owners’ threats to leave their city. (The undisputed king of the ”non-threat threat” is George Steinbrenner, who for over 20 years has implied in one way or another his intent to move the Yankees.) They blitz every major American sport–hockey, basketball, baseball, and football. Particular disdain is heaped upon Major League Baseball honchos, the leading repeat offenders of psychological blackmail and profitable play-making. New baseball stadiums, the authors argue, are far inferior to the fan-friendly dimensions of their ”outdated” counterparts: ”the view from the last row of Camden Yards is more like watching a game from a helicopter than sitting in an older park like Tiger Stadium. . . .”

Cagan and deMause lay out what amounts to a handbook on how owners rip off city, state, and federal governments. Chapter four, ”The Art of the Steal,” gives us a play-by-play, starting with ”The Home-Field Disadvantage,” in which owners claim their old digs are obsolete. This leads to ”Moving the Goalposts,” in which owners are shown manipulating open-ended clauses in their contracts with the city, until they get what they want. ”In 1995, [Houston Mayor Bob] Lanier let the Oilers pack up and leave rather than accede to their demands. Yet within just a year of that team’s announced departure, the city, county, and state had agreed to team up behind a $456 million construction project for new baseball and football facilities, while making plans for a new basketball arena as well.” Unevenly woven into the stories of owners’ unscrupulous machinations are interviews with the fans. ‘‘ ‘It’s incredibly incestuous,’ says Ricky Rask, a child-care activist in Minneapolis. . . . ‘They all play golf together.’ ”

With the Yankees’ recent success, New York has become the latest player in a game with dire consequences for social services. Heady talk is in the air about building the former world champs the most expensive stadium in the majors. According to the Field of Schemes Web site ( ~neild/ fieldofschemes/), ”Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has claimed that such a $1 billion stadium could be built in midtown Manhattan at ‘little or no cost’ to city taxpayers, but hasn’t said how.”

Cagan and deMause expose one of the biggest con games of all time and leave us with some suggestions for fighting against the powers that be. ”If sports teams were municipally owned, sports stadiums would not be nearly as expensive to build. Existing structures wouldn’t have to be razed to satisfy an eager owner’s desire to see team profits or his own net worth rapidly increase. . . . Local politicians at least have some democratic accountability to local taxpayers–something corporate owners are sorely lacking.” And then they would truly be our teams.